TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa Bay Buccaneer and his brothers can add rescuer to their resumes after helping save four people from a helicopter crash Thursday evening off of the Davis Islands.
At around 5 p.m. Thursday, a tour helicopter carrying four people crashed as it made its way to the Peter O. Knight Airport for an emergency landing, the Tampa Police Department said.
Police said the helicopter pilot heard a loud banging sound before the aircraft lost power, forcing it to land in the water near the Davis Islands Yacht Club, WFLA reports.
“I asked the pilot if we just hit something. He goes, ‘No, but this isn’t really good,’” said Hunter Hupp, a 28-year-old Philadelphia resident who was on the helicopter with his parents for the sightseeing tour.
All of the occupants of the helicopter ended up in the water, but they were soon rescued by Bucs and former Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert, his brothers Tyler and Brett, and marine patrol officers.
During a Friday press conference, Gabbert said he and his brothers, who were in town for the holidays, were on their jet skis near the yacht club, watching the sailboats, when the crash happened.
“I vaguely remember hearing a faint noise, and so we turned around, left the yacht club, and I just remember looking to the west and seeing … it almost looked like a crew boat in the water that had broken up into four pieces,” the quarterback said.
When the Gabbert brothers saw the crash victims’ life jackets, they rushed to rescue them.
“I got two on my jet ski, my brother’s got one,” Gabbert said.
The Hupps were shaken up from the ordeal, Gabbert said. Rescuing the crash victims was also difficult due to their weight from being waterlogged.
“They were covered in oil,” he said. “It was not a fun sight.”
Officials arrived on the scene shortly after and pulled the helicopter pilot from the water.
Officer Dan Spears with the Tampa Police Department Marine Unit said the rescue operation was especially impressive, due to the danger posed by water landings.
“One of the most dangerous circumstances on aircraft is a water landing just due to the inversion of the helicopter and trying to escape that and trying not to get trapped in, so it was a very amazing circumstance that everybody got out,” Spears said.
Gabbert said the Hupps didn’t even know they were being rescued by a Buccaneer, and despite the praise, he initially didn’t want recognition for it. He was later surprised that his teammates found out about it.
“I was doing the right thing,” he said “You guys would do the exact same thing I did. I just happened to be in that situation.”
For their good work, Gabbert received a coin from the marine unit and an honorary membership in the marine patrol.
“We often say we cannot do our jobs well without the help of the community, and that we are safer together,” Interim Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw said. “Yesterday was an amazing example of … teamwork, not only in the sports world, but also in our hometown, and that’s why this area is known as Champa Bay.”